9 September 2015

Tools for Marking Sewing Lines and Seam Allowances

Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - Tilly and the Buttons


Occasionally DIY dressmakers need to add a seam allowance or a seam stitching line to a sewing pattern or piece of fabric. Today I want to share three tools you can use to draw in the line evenly – at least one of them might surprise you!

But first, why would you need to do this?

If you’re hacking a sewing pattern - for example, adding a skirt to a top pattern - you'll need to add a seam allowance to any new seam lines that you draw in so you've got something to attach the new piece to.

If you’re creating your own pattern from scratch, or if you’re using a ready made pattern by a company that doesn’t include seam allowances, you’ll need to add in your own. (You don’t need to do this with Tilly and the Buttons patterns, they all include 15mm or 5/8in seam allowances.)

Or on the other hand, if you’re sewing a pattern that already has seam allowances, but you want to make extra sure that you’re sewing the seams accurately, at an even distance from the raw edge, then you may want to draw the stitching line onto the fabric. This would be helpful if you’re sewing a tricky curve, for example, and want to follow the seam line with your machine needle rather than keeping the raw edge lined up with the seam allowance guide.

Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - Tilly and the Buttons

Okay, so that’s the why. Onto the tools!

Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - pattern master

1) Pattern master

A pattern master (or pattern maker) is a type of ruler used in pattern cutting that has lots of useful lines on it. They come in both metric and imperial measurements.

You can line it up at your chosen distance from existing lines and draw new parallel lines easily. It's straight forward for drawing straight lines. For curved lines, there is a curved edge but it doesn't usually have a wide enough seam allowance on it for home sewing patterns (usually 15mm or 5/8in), and the curve shape is limited. Instead, move the straight edge around the curve, drawing a parallel dot or small dash every cm of two, then join them up afterwards with a curved ruler or steady hand.

Little tip – make sure your pencil is sharp and that you’re pressing it right up against the edge of the ruler, otherwise you may end up with a wider seam allowance than you intended ;)

Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - Tilly and the Buttons
Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - double tracing wheel

2) Adjustable double tracing wheel

A double tracing wheel has different holes to insert two adjustable tracing wheels into, letting you space them apart by the seam allowance measurement you want to use.

Roll it along with one of the wheels exactly on the original line, and the other one will mark in the seam allowance or seam line at an even distance. If you’re using it on paper, you can go over the indentations in pencil afterwards. If you’re using it on fabric, slip a sheet of dressmaker’s carbon underneath, carbon side against the fabric, to transfer the lines.

I don’t find these tools quite as accurate as other methods on straight lines as it's quite easy to wibble off the lines, but they’re very quick and easy to use on curves.

Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - Tilly and the Buttons

3) A little strip of card

This is a trick I picked up on the bra-making course I took at Morley College (thanks, Carol!). It’s so simple, it seems silly to even type this out, but I hadn’t thought of it before so it’s worth sharing!

All you do is cut a slim little strip of card and mark the seam allowance on it. Line up the marking with the original line, and dot or dash in the new line along the edge of the card. You can join up the dots or dashes afterwards with a curved ruler or steady hand.

Again, I wouldn’t use this on straight lines, but it’s really handy on curves!

Tools for marking sewing lines and seam allowances - Tilly and the Buttons

So those are the three tools I use for adding seam allowances or stitching lines to sewing patterns - I hope you found it helpful. Do you use any different tools for the same purpose?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Tips for accurate sewing
Tips for tracing sewing patterns

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14 comments:

  1. For marking seam allowances on straight lines, my favorite tool is a C-Thru B-95 clear gridded ruler. For curves, I made some little circles cut out of plastic lids or paperboard with a hole in the center. I put the tip of my pencil through the hole in the circle and trace away. I made sheets of circles you can print out to make them in various sizes: http://growyourownclothes.com/2015/09/01/seam-allowance-marking-templates/

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    1. Oh my goodness, these are absolute genius. I'm going to make myself a set.

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  2. A drawing compass is perfect foe this! Set the distance between the point and the lead th the desired distance and run the point long the original line. Use a straight edge as a guide on straight lines. Perfect results always. (Use a good quality drawing compass that will retain your setting accurately.)

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  3. Tips and tricks like this are SO useful for me, i've not long started sewing/crafting etc. and these are the things that are hardest to figure out myself!

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  4. I use a Seam Allowance Guide when I'm cutting. It's a little magnet you stick to your scissors with a tiny rubber band that you roll to the correct seam allowance. The set comes with two magnets - one for scissors with a straight outside edge, and one for scissors with a sloped outside edge. All my patterns that I draft have no seam allowance, so I just add it when I'm cutting out. Like the double tracing wheel (which I also have, but I feel like it splays out if you press too hard and isn't terrifically accurate) it's not 100% accurate, but I think it's accurate enough.

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  5. I use a variant of the paper strip called 'zoommaatje' (untranslatable, zoom means hem (but I also use it for seams) and maat(je) refers both to buddy and size). http://dashboard.naboqu.com/data/imagecache/zoommaatje_7_3.jpg

    It has various measurements on it and even info on where to use which. I got one for free somewhere once and have been uding it since, usually directly when cutting the pattern (a). Since I am a bit messy I also often lose mine, then I just make a new one out of some buissiness card ;)

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  6. Instead of your strip of card, you can use your tape measure. Dress-making tape measures are 5/8" wide. Slide the edge along the original line, marking the seam allowance every few cms, as with your strip of card, using the other side of the tape. (Use the end of the tape, where it's firm.)

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  7. Love all these tool tips - keep 'em coming!

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  8. What about the handy seam gauge which often comes free with a new machine - a lightweight aluminium ruler with a sliding piece. It's excellent for lots of small measuring jobs - and really cheap too.

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  9. There is another option that is easier than all of these. You just take two pencils and join them together with elastic band(s), with padding between them to make the distance between the pencil tips being the seam allowance you want to use. You can either trace directly onto a pattern, or use carbon paper to trace onto fabric (or use a fabric pen of some description (air disappear/water soluble) in place of the second pencil) and it works great on straight and curvy lines. So simple even a beginner sewer like me (with a brain injury!) can manage it!

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  10. Thank you for the tips, Tilly:) It was really helpful since the Burda patterns don't contain a seem allowance. That's why your patterns are a real luxury to work with:D I can go straight to cutting my fabric. Have a nice day, Sophia
    www.littlesewingmachine.blogspot.de

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  11. I truly appreciate this article, especially for a newbie like me when it comes to sewing! I will bookmark this page along with Kayla Green’s website for future reference. Thanks so much, I learned a lot from this post!

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  12. We were taught (in a theatrical costume class) to draft patterns without seam allowances. We'd trace around the cardstock pattern pieces for standard pants and shirts and such directly onto our fabric with either chalk or a hard sliver of soap. Then, to add seam allowances when we cut out, we'd use our fingers for measuring. Most adult women's index fingers are one inch long from the tip of finger to the middle of the first joint wrinkles. Most adult women's index fingers are 5/8 " wide across the first knuckle. You can put the tip of your non-dominant hand's index finger on the seam line, and use your shears to cut to the knuckle --don't cut your knuckle! Bleeding on the goods is considered bad form. Your hands are always attached to your body, no fear of losing them in the bottom of a drawer full of notions.

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    1. I've never heard of using one's fingers as seam allowance guides before, hehe!

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